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MIT, Ford Team Up To Build On-Demand Campus Shuttle Service

CAMBRIDGE (CBS) -- Imagine if cars could anticipate when and where you need a ride.

Students and staff at MIT are working on making that a reality.

Ford Motor Group has partnered with the university to test out an on-demand electric shuttle service. But you won't have to be too demanding, because it already knows to pick you up.

"We want to have the vehicles sort of predicting where people will be so that they'll be there before you even request the ride," said MIT grad student Justin Miller, who's been working on the project for the last two years.

Starting in September, a select group of MIT students and professors will be able to request a ride from one of these electric cars, which look more like futuristic golf carts.

"We used laser scanners and cameras to track people as they walk by the vehicle," Miller said. "And the purpose isn't to track any single person but rather to get a general idea of how people are flowing throughout the campus."

By tracking people's patterns over time, the cars will be able to predict when and where the most pedestrian traffic is on campus.

As each car drives, it is collecting that goes to this portable computer behind the back seat. That information eventually makes its way to Ford. The company says it wants to better understand mobility and demand in dense urban areas.

"This is an initial rollout for the campus which is sort of a microcosm of what traffic is in general," said Miller. "So by having a small set of vehicles on a small campus we can sort of analyze things that could eventually be expanded to a city."

But for now Miller says he's excited to provide an even more reliable way for his classmates to get around.

"We also want to provide a service for MIT," Miller said. "We're imagining that students will use this service to get to class."

They'll wake up request a ride and it's there it picks you up and it takes you to class and it can't be late and it can't take forever," he said.

A ride is requested through a special app developed by MIT. But only 50 to 100 people currently has access to the app during the testing phase.

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